See follow up Vol 2 of 2019: Special care order for drug-taking homeless teenager
A case review was held in the District Court when it was re-entered by the CFA due to the placement breakdown of a child in care [A]. The teenager had been under a full care order since 2014 and had spent nine months in secure care between late 2014 and mid-2015.
His recent placement in a children’s residential service had broken down due to his escalating behaviour, and he was being currently placed in a hostel for 16-23 year-old-drug users until the National Placement Committee could find a suitable residential placement for him. The judge remarked that the situation was not “in any way suitable for a child in care.”
When A spent nine months in secure care during his early teens he did not engage in education, nor did he when he lived in his step-down placement. In early December of 2015 he came into meet the High Court judge presiding over the Minors’ Review List (the list dealing with the minors currently in secure care or those who had been in secure care and were transitioning back to residential care). That day the court heard that he was spending Christmas Day with one of the staff who worked in his placement.
In Spring of 2016 the High Court judge noted that A had had no educational assistance while he had been in care (his case had first come before the District Court in 2014) and if no educational assistance were to begin the CFA would have to send in a representative to inform the court as how provisions would be made. Behavioural issues were still occurring with A and a referral had been made for an assessment for ADHD.
By the summer of 2016 the High Court heard that a NEPS assessment would be carried out that August, so far A had been refused admission to the schools that had been applied to and the issue of funding for the private tutor was still outstanding. Currently A was not engaging in occupational therapy, although he had been assessed and offered appointments. As the teenager had not been in secure care for some time the case was taken out of the Minors’ List and adjourned generally.
The case was heard again by this reporter in the summer of 2018, it had already been re-entered into the District Court in February when A’s placement had broken down and he was placed in a short to medium term placement.
However the placement in February did not meet his needs, the GAL and the professionals involved had found it to be unsatisfactory and he was moved to a different placement that lasted only three months. A was arrested in Dublin City centre in possession of drugs, and had also been aggressive and threatening towards staff resulting in the placement break-down and he returned to his original placement.
The acting social worker told the court that A was not doing well, he was staying in his girlfriend’s house, he had hygiene issue, a low mood and was unkempt. His social worker was concerned about his presentation over the previous two weeks.
He had been discharged from his residential placement and Fresh Start would provide an outreach service to him five days a week. He had been referred to Substance Abuse Service Specific to Youth (SASSY) for alcohol addiction but had not attended to date, furthermore the teenager was not engaging in education. A bench warrant had been issued in another county due to his non-attendance in the District Court for a public order offence.
The social worker told the court that A was already wondering if he would go into secure care, he had stayed there previously and knew that his current presentation would lead the professionals involved to discuss it. “A benefit of secure care is that it would give him time to stabilise,” said the social worker, “he doesn’t have a secure base and he’s not coping.”
“He is now effectively homeless,” commented the solicitor for the guardian ad litem(GAL).
The GAL then told the court that she had met with A on two occasions earlier last month and that he had described himself as hopeless. He did not want to go back to his residential placement because the other residents were using “really hard drugs”. She felt that a bespoke unit was not ideal for the teenager as he needed to be around other young people.
“He is getting to the point where he needs secure care quickly and he will get to criminality very quickly, we can’t stand over that when there’s no structure for him.”
He did not know where he was going to be from one hour to the next. Nobody knew where he was for the majority of the day, he needed counselling and possibly psychological work. The teenager needed secure care until he stabilised. He had not been accepted into a residential placement that had been applied for due to a collective risk assessment. The GAL told the court that he was stuck in the space of waiting for a residential placement to accept him.
“The other space he could fall into is criminality,” the GAL told the court, “he could well be not bailed today or he could pick up more warrants, some day he could come across somebody who is not going to help him and it could happen sooner rather than later.”
The judge put the case in for mention early the following week and directed that a witness come to court from the Children’s Residential Services to inform the court as to what was going to be done, “higher management decision makers may need to come in,” he remarked.
The following week
When the case returned the following week the acting National Director for Children’s Residential Services came to update the court as to the on-going situation regarding A’s lack of placement.
A had been discharged from his residential placement the previous Friday night (where the other teenagers were using hard drugs) and was currently being offered a bed in a hostel. However he had not stayed there overnight on Friday or Sunday.
“A is in the care of the state and doesn’t have accommodation suitable to his needs, how long is this a reality?” asked the judge, “this isn’t in any way suitable for a child in the care of the state.”
The solicitor for the CFA told the court that the acting National Director for Children’s Residential Services was there to set out a proactive plan for a placement option for A, that a number of attempts had been made to identify a suitable placement for the child.
The acting director (who was also the director of two secure care units) told the court that there were 44 of their own services that provided placements but they could only send A’s profile to the placements that they thought could deliver a service to him. One of these service providers currently had vacancies in Wicklow and Limerick. Some of the placements could meet his needs but the decision also needed to be made as to whether he needed secure care again.
Parallel planning would be needed, remarked the GAL solicitor, as special care was a short intervention therefore a step down placement would have to be identified in a mainstream placement as well.
The acting director advised the court that A’s profile would not suit some of the service providers, he remained violent and had a high level of absconding. He required a service provider with senior staff with a range of experience who had engaged in social care work with children with challenging behaviours for five or six years. He needed a team that had worked together for a number of years, he told the court that he did not have the staff profiles of the particular service provider.
A struggled in a group setting, he struggled with staff, with boundaries and engagement with other young people, he was quite difficult to manage. The acting director told the court that he had been working in the secure care service for 21 years and that not everybody could be placed within that system, quite challenging behaviours could be managed well within the community with a lot of supports.
The solicitor for the GAL pointed out that the hostel where A was temporarily staying was a service for 16-23 year old drug users and that A had a problem with alcohol, therefore it was not a suitable service for him which he did not want to use. “On paper he won’t be homeless,” she said, “but in reality being placed in an ineffective unit he is homeless, would you agree it’s totally inappropriate for his needs at this time?”
The acting director agreed it was not the service he would choose for A, however he would like to see the teenager tested in another mainstream service before secure care. He told the court the committee of the service provider referred to were making a referral within the locality.
“Effectively the reality is for [A] that if he doesn’t engage he’s either going to be homeless or he’ll go to Oberstown, there are criminal matters as well,” said the GAL solicitor.
“They will not be used to exclude him from special care,” the acting director replied.
“You’re in a very difficult position here,” the judge remarked, “this is a very serious review in respect of a young man who is facing a dreadful situation where a criminal process will resolve the issue.” She asked for the matter to come back early that afternoon during which time the CFA were to clarify matters regarding referrals for the young teenager. “It’s too serious,” the judge said, it was a Friday and the situation had to be resolved before the weekend.
When the matter returned later that afternoon the court heard that A’s social worker and GAL had gone to view a residential placement for him in Dublin, the placement had accepted his profile and the social work team had gone to view it.
A was accepted into the residential service.
(This service was a residential accommodation service catering for 12-18 year old children with referrals coming directly from the HSE and operated under license from the HSE Registration and Inspection Service. There were four locations in the Dublin area providing for 18 young people in total.
The service offered a highly individualised developmental programme that supported each young person’s progression towards adulthood and endeavoured to equip them with the necessary skills needed for positive self-care, independent living and social integration.)